THE term great is often bandied about when talking about sportsmen. In truth, probably only a handful of them fit the category, but not even the most severe critic would deny Jacques Kallis’s place in that most elite of groups.
Barring the odd Twenty20 tournament, the SA cricketer, 38, called time on his career last month and it gives rise to an interesting debate about where he should be placed in South African’s pantheon of cricket greats.
As most people are quick to say, comparisons with players of previous eras are odious and irrelevant. Yet, among cricket fans, they are still fun to talk about, if somewhat subjective.
Given his 18-year career, Kallis’s statistics are simply staggering – 13289 test runs (average 55.37) and 292 wickets (32.65); 11579 ODI runs and 273 wickets. Few, if anyone, will ever better those.
In the history of test cricket, only Gary Sobers, who played just one limited-overs international, can match those allround test stats – 8032 runs (ave 57), 235 wickets (ave 34).
Yet is not only about figures. It is about who had the greatest influence and here my vote goes to Sobers for the way he could completely dominate a game.
As English cricket commentator Mark Nicholas said in a wonderful Cricinfo tribute to Kallis: “What he lacked was Sobers’s flair. There were times when Kallis appeared lost in his own world, strangely unable to alter the pattern of play through inspiration. He operated within a risk-averse strategy, while Sobers regarded a gamble as part of the daily routine. Because of this, Sobers was greatly loved while Kallis was highly regarded. Sobers emptied bars; Kallis guaranteed no change should you happen to drift off.”
Nonetheless, for many it will be a toss-up about who you would prefer in your side. SA legend Mike Procter is another you could easily throw into the mix.
In a South African batting context, Kallis joins Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock as the Big Three – a class above the rest. To justify a ranking is probably an impossible exercise, yet I would have Richards on top, for his complete mastery of most attacks, followed by Pollock, for his ability to demoralise the opposition. Others will surely differ.
In his closing paragraph, Nicholas accurately captures what Kallis meant to SA cricket.
“Kallis retires as another one of those truly great cricketers. He made South Africans proud and he made the rest of the world stand up and take notice. He played at the highest level for 18 years, which is a testament to desire and fitness every bit as much as it is to the skills that make him irreplaceable.
“He was the beating heart of many fine teams, the reference point for many an opponent and a standard-bearer for a sports-loving nation through its period of extraordinary reconciliation and change. Bravo Jacques, the game will be poorer without you.”